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September 2, 2014

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Joe Downtown:

Joe Downtown: New management at The Ogden’s Wild eyes healthier business model

Image

Joe Schoenmann

Natalie Young and Elyse Martin.

From its opening around Halloween, Wild, the gluten-free pizza restaurant on the first floor of The Ogden, appeared to have an image problem.

Within weeks, downtowners were betting it would close by the end of the year. Despite its inviting urban/country decor and food, which many thought was very good, it didn't appear to be drawing many customers.

Wild hasn’t closed — Downtown Project, which partnered with Wild founder Miki Agrawal in the restaurant, recently bought her out for an undisclosed amount.

A Project representative did not immediately reply to an inquiry.

New General Manager Elyse Martin and the Project have since employed Natalie Young, who owns the famously successful breakfast/lunch restaurant Eat, as a consultant.

Young, who had worked for decades as a chef in casino-resorts, said Thursday she has a simple formula she believes will turn Wild into a success.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Young, minutes after interviewing a candidate for chef. “My thought is, let’s get back to the basics, service and food. Forget all the fancy stuff. That takes away from what’s important.”

When Wild opened, waiters were known as “facilitators,” not waiters or waitresses. They would give customers little cards that they could write on to pass messages, via facilitators, to other customers. There was a word of the day.

Agrawal is involved in many endeavors, according to Wild’s website. The Las Vegas Wild restaurant was her third restaurant venture; her first gluten-free restaurant opened in New York City. The site describes her as “serial social entrepreneur.” She wrote a book, “Do Cool Sh*t.” And, the site says, “her next undertaking is THINX, a high-tech beautiful underwear solution for women during their ‘time of the month.’"

Agrawal didn’t live in Las Vegas.

Young said if her experience with Eat taught her one thing, it’s that her oversight and presence were crucial to its success.

“My experience with Eat was, you have to be here seven days a week, 10 hours a day for the first year,” she said.

Eat was funded by Downtown Project; Young paid off the Project’s loan in little more than a year. Now she splits profits, 50-50, with the private downtown redevelopment group.

Lately, she’s been spending after-breakfast hours at Wild, poring over everything from its service to menu. Martin said one of the first things she asked the Project was to hire Young as a consultant.

With 13 years in the restaurant business, Martin said she knows it takes endless hours and hard work to eke out a success.

“This is my baby,” she said of Wild. “I eat, sleep and breathe this place.”

Young said she expects to spend a “good solid month” at Wild.

“We can have organic, gluten-free and vegetarian but it all has to make sense,” she said. “We can’t have $30 bowls of pasta but we can have a great bowl of pasta for an affordable amount … We need to serve great food with great service. That’s it. Then it will come.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown; he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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